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VOL. 125 | NO. 222 | Monday, November 15, 2010

‘Ridiculously Cool’ Tiger Shirts Put Biz on Map

JOE BOONE | Special to The Daily News

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Zombie tigers have been sighted on the streets of Memphis. Citizens should be on the lookout for snarling, eyeless tigers. These tigers should be considered nuts about Memphis and ready to rock.

Ian Lemmonds, left, and John Garland of Memphis Inc. wear a couple of their T-shirts at Goner Records, where they have some shirts on display. The pair create pro-Memphis products. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

The tigers can be found in a new design printed on black T-shirts. The shirts are the latest Memphis fashion craze and are the work of local design firm Memphis Inc.

“It crushes three things together: the city, the tiger and ’80s heavy metal,” said owner and designer Ian Lemmonds. “It’s just a mash-up of cool things.”

Lemmonds is also a principal at Mouse Foundry Media, which he founded with his wife, Elizabeth. Their firm has done design work for clients such as Rhodes College.

The shirts are available on their website, www.memphisincorporated.com.

The couple handles fulfillments and uses a PayPal website plug-in that allows users to pay online. Mouse Foundry Media offers Internet architecture services, so they were able to set up the website over the course of a weekend.

An initial run of 500 shirts, paid for with a credit card, sold out in a week. Since then they have sold almost 1,000. In addition to online, they sell their productd locally at Goner Records and Crazy Beautiful. A new design is coming out this month.

“This is really a self-sustained hobby,” Lemmonds said. “Our goal was to be ridiculously cool, but not be too serious.”

Lemmonds is quick to point out that the design does not mention the University of Memphis, nor does Memphis Inc. have any affiliation with the U of M. This use of the tiger – not the official U of M logo – speaks to a different sort of pride in Memphis.

“There are people here who want to represent the city, just not solely through sports,” he said. “We wanted to make pro-Memphis gear that people like us would want to wear. We have a lot of friends who want to represent this city who will never go into the Tiger Bookstore. We like being underground, kind of an insider thing.”

Lemmonds grew up loving Memphis and listening to heavy metal groups like Metallica. Enter zombie tiger.

Lemmonds’ design was conceived with John Garland. A snarling, eyeless tiger is rendered in high-contrast lines reminiscent of old advertising signage. Above the tiger is “Memphis” in a font instantly recognizable to any Metallica fan as borrowing from the band’s logo. But it can just as easily be appreciated by the Molly Hatchett generation. It rocks.

Recombining media and references to media are part of “mash up,” a prominent design aesthetic of a generation raised on digital art and image manipulation. The Lemmonds’ generation grew up after the advent of “desktop publishing.” Programs like Adobe Photoshop allow designers to borrow and reference images, combining them into new forms.

But in addition to being ridiculously cool, Memphis Inc. is one example of what this city must develop in order to survive.

Memphis leaders talk about attracting human capital to Memphis in order to save the tax base. They point to the growth of cities like Austin, Texas, and Asheville, N.C., cities that attract young, entrepreneurial workers.

Local, close-knit service economies create an independent creative community. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, FedEx and Pinnacle Airlines, for example, need to attract young people.

There is a multiplier effect between Memphis Inc., their printer and their retailers. The shirts were printed at Bluff City Sports Print, a locally owned print shop in Cooper-Young. The shirts are sold at Goner Records, just down the street. These local business networks add essential character to a city. Young workers follow that character.

Bluff City Sports Print is growing, thanks in large part to the work of young, local entrepreneurial people.

“Our business has been busier than ever,” said Jana Misener of Bluff City. “We’re getting bigger orders from several events we do every year.”

Misener is in her 20s and is from New Mexico. She is an accomplished cellist who chose to live in Memphis due the diverse music scene.

“Every day I get to get someone a great deal on tees that’s doing something great for our community,” she said. “I get to work with lots of bands and nonprofits including Rock ‘n’ Romp and the Eat Local Campaign. Working with Memphis’ creative community is the best part of my job.”

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